In yesterday’s blog I mentioned how dressing dolls was often an early introduction for many designers to the world of fashion and remembered Sarli’s love for making miniature costumes for puppets. I do have a fascination with puppet theatres and I'm particularly interested in Venetian marionettes from the 18th century.
During the 1600s hand puppet theatres were rather popular in Venice. Many citizens actually hated them as, they claimed, the puppeteers offended with their stories and language public moral and decency. There was even a Plan de Réforme proposé aux Cinq Correcteurs de Venise, dated Amsterdam 1775 (that some critics claimed was written by Giacomo Casanova), that called for a crusade against puppeteers who were turning the entire city into a théâtre des marionnettes.
Yet, at the same time, a different type of puppet theatre had become popular in Venice, the marionette musical theatre. During these shows, the wooden marionettes - controlled by strings from above – were used to stage a musical drama sung by real singers concealed behind the scenes. These events – that mainly took place in proper theatres, such as the San Moisé, or at the houses of rich families – became rather popular in Venice between the 17th and 18th century.
One of the first marionette music theatre shows took place in 1679 at the Zattere Theatre where the marionettes sung a drama written by Count Badoer, entitled Il Leandro, with music by Francesco Antonio Pistocchi, also known as “il Pistocchino”. Pistocchi was a castrato singer who had enjoyed a discreet success in his teens, but his career quickly declined when he was just 20 years old, as he started having problems with his voice. Hidden away while the marionettes where on stage during Il Leandro, Pistocchi sang as a contralto and, amazingly, he managed to re-launch his career.
In 1746, the flamboyant Count Angelo Maria Labia, inspired by the marionette shows at the San Girolamo Theatre, had his very own theatre built in his house. Apparently, Labia’s marionette theatre was even more extraordinary as it featured fantastic scenes and extraordinary costumes that meticulously followed the fashion of those years.
There are two museums in Italy that have original Venetian marionettes from the 17th century, Bologna’s Galleria Davia Bargellini and Venice’s Museo Correr. One main feature of the original Venetian marionettes is that they all wore wonderful costumes. The “dame” or noblewomen, usually had the most amazing dresses, made in rich velvet or satin fabrics and featured fashionable elements such as double sleeve ruffles, unseamed front waits, lace collars and wide side hoops. Elaborate trimmings zig-zagged along the dress, while gold or silvery metal thread was used to create decorative motifs. These are the sort of details that I adore looking at when I see a marionette from those times.
Glasgow’s Mitchell Library hosts John Blundall’s extensive collection of puppets and marionettes. Blundall is a bit of an icon himself as he created the Thunderbirds’ Parker, Kyrano and Grandma. A while back, I spent a good part of an afternoon chatting with Blundall and admiring the details on his puppets’ costumes. I remember being transfixed by the Burmese puppets wearing finely embroidered and bejewelled costumes.
Portraying models like string puppets in photo shoots is an overused idea, maybe, but every time I see Blundall’s collection I get visions for new and exciting fashion photo shoots. I find actually rather silly that the weekend supplements of Scottish papers are so obstinate as to keep on shooting miserable fashion spreads with models wearing beige and grey clothes in park settings, rather than doing something more colorful and fun involving a huge resource such as Blundall's collection.
Anyway, don't worry, I'm not going to launch into a tirade against the blandness of Scottish newspapers (I will do it another time...), but I want to give you a tip. If, by any chance, you happen to be in Italy and you see the name ”Compagnia Carlo Colla & Figli” on a theatre poster, just get in and enjoy the show.
Colla’s puppet company has staged some of the most amazing productions of operas, ballets, fables and even historical novels. I saw their Aida a few years ago and was left speechless by the perfection of the movements, the flawless interaction between the main characters and the elegant and rich costumes worn by the marionettes.
In the fashion industry the consumers are usually turned into puppets in the hands of designers, advertising companies and the media that literally pull their strings. My advice is cut off those strings and run away: it's much better to admire fashionable puppets on a stage than being a fashion puppet in the hands of someone else.Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos